Lima at night (Source: Creative Commons)

Lima at night (Source: Creative Commons)

The UN climate change negotiations – or COP20 – progressed slowly through the first week of talks in Lima, Peru. However, much of the news from last week reflects what will be discussed this week as high level ministerial talks begin today.

Structure of the Talks

In the simplest of terms, there are three streams of simultaneous negotiations, all of which overlap on the negotiating table and in the real world. First, there is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The group is working on a draft text of the Paris 2015 agreement as well as a framework for pre-2020 commitments for countries (since the Paris agreement will not take effect until 2020).

There are two subsidiary bodies where talks take place as well, one dealing with scientific and technological advice, the other with implementation.

Developing Countries Come to the Table With Adaptation Agenda

In light of the U.S.-China climate pledge announced ahead of the Lima talks, India has been feeling mounting pressure for a similar commitment. India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but officials have yet to name a peak year for emissions (China has set 2030 as their date). In conversations with the Indian delegation, this seems to be due to a lack of knowledge when that peak and subsequent reduction will occur rather than a reluctance to make an announcement.

India is still considered a developing country according the standards set by the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which puts its immense emissions at odds with its “developed” neighbors. Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar arrived in Lima this past weekend, setting the stage for more serious negotiations in the week ahead.

Developing countries will be the focal point of this week’s talks, with an emphasis on climate adaptation. The general consensus is that climate and emissions mitigation is the responsibility of developed countries, but that this must be addressed in a way that helps developing countries adapt to the historical emissions’ problems caused a century of heavy industry.

Early last week, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said that she wanted the Lima decision to make sure “adaptation is at the same level as mitigation,” and that developed countries will have to compromise on some of their mitigation-centric commitments.

To wit, the UN Environment Program issued the Adaptation Gap Report late last week, which indicated that the costs of adaptation would actually be two to three times higher per year by 2050 than the annual $70-$100 billion experts originally expected. 

Public source funding reached $23-36 billion USD between 2012 and 2013, but the report states that “new and additional” finance must be made available to avoid a “significant gap” in the post-2020 era. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in a press release that “this report underlines the importance of including comprehensive adaptation plans in the [Paris 2015] agreement.”

The report’s data will certainly be presented in arguments towards the end of the week when the talks will inevitably hit their annual standstill until parties can regroup with their respective governments and come back with compromises.

All About the Money

The climate negotiations will be fairly meaningless without the financial means to implement their mitigation and adaptation measures. Last week Japan caused a major stir when it was revealed they used money earmarked for climate projects (from a general climate fund set up by the UNFCCC back in 2009) to fund three coal-fired power plants in Indonesia.

Civil society members at the COP were outraged as Japan gave the excuse that if they had not funded the incrementally cleaner coal plants, dirtier ones would have just been built in their place. 

Approximately 250 groups signed a letter sent to the UNFCCC and the Green Climate Fund (established to aid developing countries with climate-related projects) calling for an “exclusion list,” essentially banning any fossil fuel projects from being funded under the guise of UN climate money.

The overarching problem here is a lack of a clear definition on what “climate finance” actually means in the COP context. Currently there is a large gray area where projects like carbon capture and storage or others with just a “green” co-benefit can be counted as climate finance.

As a result of the controversy last week, the Green Climate Fund will be front and center in this week’s talks as well as an overall discussion on what should and should not be counted as eligible for climate funding. 

Following a $62.5 million contribution by Belgium, the GCF is currently up to $9.7 billion USD, yet this is still less than 10 percent of the $100 billion promised by developed countries.

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